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How to size up a personal trainer

Personal trainers like to say, "It didn't take you four weeks to get this out of shape. So why would you think it can take four weeks to get you back?"

By extension, you might wonder: I created this physique. Why can't I fix it?

Not everybody needs a personal trainer. All of us can count to 10 and most people with average strength can spot us during an exercise.

But if you have found yourself making the same get-in-shape resolution year after year, you might need that extra push _ at least in the beginning.

Choose carefully, as you did when you selected a gym. You want to get more than counting and spotting.

A trainer should be one part psychologist, one part physiologist and one part motivational speaker, all blended together with a heavy dose of military drill instructor.

Trainers aren't cheap. On average they will charge clients between $30 and $60 per hour. This fee is usually split with the gym, 50/50 or 60/40.

You might spend less if you find a trainer who pays his or her own rent at a gym. You might pay more for a trainer who comes to your house; those travel expenses add up. And you won't have the benefit of an entire gym's resources at your disposal.

Some trainers will drop their rates if you stay with them long enough, as they are helping you more with maintenance work rather than starting from square one each time.

I have clients who come to me with all types of needs.

Some are completely uninformed about fitness and need education as well as instruction. If this sounds like you, or if you are a naturally inquisitive person, search out a trainer who is educated enough in exercise physiology to explain not just how, but why.

Some clients are looking for variety and routines that are uncommon or challenging to keep them from being bored. In this case, experience in the gym can often outweigh classroom study. Current or former body builders or fitness competitors have been around enough gyms long enough to pick up a variety of routines and tips. Just like the business world, there's no substitute for hands-on experience.

On the other hand, I have clients who prefer to stick with what's familiar. The structure of a workout is what they need. They want to know what they are going to do and how many times they are going to do it. Comfort is more important to them than variety.

Motivation is a huge reason people hire trainers. You could have an Adonis with a master's degree in exercise physiology, but if he doesn't inspire you and he doesn't come to work each day with energy, all that muscle and brainpower are going to waste.

I know plenty of men _ and believe it or not, more often women _ who come to the gym with the mind-set that they want to be broken down. They want a trainer in their face, relentless and demanding. These type of clients get the best results from intense motivation and the need to be pushed.

Now, a good trainer will possess a little bit of all these characteristics and will probably excel in one.

Getting back to price: If it's an issue, or if training falls outside your budget, ask the gym or a trainer about teaming up with someone else. If a one-hour session costs $60, see if they'll train two of you at the same time for that price or even tack on an extra $10. The trainer is still getting the same amount or more for his time, and you, the client, are getting all the instruction at a discount. It's a win-win situation. I've known some trainers to have as many as four, usually friends, train at the same time.

Also, ask about half-hour sessions. Quality, rather than quantity of time, in the gym is what counts. You can get an excellent workout in 30 minutes and usually at half the price.

Lastly, look at hiring a personal trainer as a step toward becoming self-sufficient some day. There are some gyms or trainers out there who will teach you the basics first and then just feed you little by little, hoping you'll need to come back and purchase more sessions. A month, two or maybe even three months, say twice a week should be sufficient to learn how to train competently on your own. If you need more sessions at a later date, you can always go back.

And, again, there are some people who just need to know that person is there at the gym waiting for them and setting things up. That, and knowing they are paying this person, is enough to keep them showing up.